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Bilingual Or Multilingual Society in Philippines

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The Philippines is a polyglot society with 181 existed as distinct languages (Mandane, 2014). Accordingto McFarland (2004) the languages in the Philippines can be further group into a few language families which are a northern group (Ilokano, Pangasinan, and Kapampangan) and central group (Tagalog, Bikol, Hiligaynon, and Cebuano). Mandane (2014) stated that among these 181 distinct languages, Chavacano is a Spanish-based creole, while all the other languages belong to the Austronesian language family. The Philippines did not have a national language until Tagalog was declared as the basis for national language of Philippines on 31 December 1937. Tagalog was then renamed to Pilipino in the year 1959. In the 1973 Constitution, Filipino, which is the basis for Tagalog was proclaimed as the official language, together with the English Language. The status of Filipino and English as the official languages of Philippines was once again mentioned in Article XIV, Section 6 to 7 of 1987 Constitution.

The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.

For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.

In Section 7 of Article XIV, 1987 Constitution, it is also mentioned that the Spanish language and Arabic Language can be learned as a voluntary basis. Also, Section8 states that The 1987 Constitution shall be translated into Spanish Language and Arabic Language.

In 1974, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) issued DepartmentOrder No.25, entitled, “Implementing Guidelines for the Policy on BilingualEducation”. Since then, The Philippines Bilingual Education Policy was implemented (Espiritu, 2015). In the Department Order No. 25, it is stated that English shall be used as the instructional language for Science, Mathematics, and Technology while the other subjects shall be taught in Pilipino (Filipino). Besides, in order to ensure the competency of citizens in both Filipino and English, these two subjects are learned as language subjects at all levels(Espiritu, 2015). On 25 August 1988, President Corazon Aquino signed ExecutiveOrder No. 335 to enjoin all government departments to use Filipino in official transactions, correspondence and communications (Catacataca 2015). The purpose of Executive Order No. 335 is to promote a greater understanding and appreciation towards the countries and thus enhance the unity and peace of the country.

Make as part of the training programs for personal development in each office the proficiency in the use of Filipino in official communication and correspondence. Filipinizethe “Oath of Office” for Government Officials and Personnel. (Espiritu, 2015)

Inconsonance with the Bilingual Education Policy of 1987, the new-created commission on Higher Education in the year 1994 has listed out a few guidelines regarding the medium language in the Philippines.  Language courses, whether Filipino or English, should be taught in that language. At the discretion of the Higher Education Institute, Literature subjects may be taught in Filipino, English or any other language as long as there are enough instructional materials for the same and both students and instructors/professors are competent in the language.

The Language Policy of the Commission on Higher Education (Espiritu, 2015)

In the year 2010, Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) was implemented. Department of Education believes that children learn best in their mother tongue and mother tongue promotes effective learning of additional languages (Besa, 2014). Thus, MTB-MLE was implemented and 19 languages are currently used in the teaching and learning (Department of Education, 2016).MTB-MLE is implemented in all learning subjects (except for Filipino and English) for all Kindergarten to Grade 3 students and the focus is placed on speaking, reading and writing (Department of Education, 2016).

With a total area of 923,768 km2, Nigeria is located on the west coast of Africa as shown in Figure 1. It consists of 36 states altogether and the federal capital Territory in Abuja. Nigeria is a culturally and linguistically heterogeneous African state and therefore it is one of the countries with the highest linguistic diversity and was once a colony of British from 1901-1960 (Orekan,2010). The plurality of Africa was described by Ouadraogo (2000) when he stated that “education and language issues are very complex in Africa because of the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual situations”.

Based on the present language ethnography, there are over 521 languages and ethnic groups in the nation. These indigenous languages are being classified into two, namely the majority and minority languages according to the population of speakers (Ogunmodimu, 2015). Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba are the three major languages in the country as each of them have over twenty million speakers and they often function as local lingua francas as well as regional or state languages in areas where they are spoken (Ndimele, 2012). On the other hand, unlike the majority of languages, the minority languages have only over one million speakers. Some examples of these languages are Tiv, Urhobo, Fulfude, Istekiri, Ibibio, Gwari etc. As for smaller minority languages such as Janji and Benue-Congo, they only have approximately 400-100 speakers (Dada, 2010) and the usage is only limited to their respective local communities. In addition to all these indigenous languages, there is also the exoglossic languages such as English,French, and Arabic.

As mentioned earlier, Nigeria has a history of British colonization. However, that is not the sole reason that the English language is widely used throughout the country. Even before colonization, Nigeria came into contact with the English language through British missionaries and traders in the late sixteen century. English then became the language of administration during British colonization. Now, English is the language of education, legislation, media, business, and administration. It is recognized as one of the official languages in Nigeria stated in the 1979 Constitution in Section 51 and 91, as well as in Sections55 and 97 of the 1999 Constitution:

The business of the National Assembly shall be conducted in English and in Hausa, Ibo, and Yoruba when adequate arrangements have been made, therefore.

Hence, according to the constitution above, there are now four recognized official languages in Nigeria namely, English, Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. At the state government level, the major languages of each state are similarly recognized.

However, in reality, English is primarily used compared to the other official indigenous languages. They only play a complementary role either at the federal or state level (Dada, 2010). This is due to the fact that English is institutionally the only means open to individuals from different ethnic and linguistic groups for interaction (Odebunmi, 2005).

In Nigeria, there is a third language known as the English-based Nigerian Pidgin, which is made up of a mixture of languages. Although it is not a native language of any of the tribe or ethnic, it is dominantly used by the Nigerians, regardless of socioeconomic status, to interact and communicate with each other in an informal context(Ogunmodimu, 2015). Table 1 summarises the various language types which can be found in Nigeria.

Due to the nation’s pluralistic nature, language planning is crucially important to promote national unity and cohesion as well as to preserve its unique culture. In order to do so, the national policy on Education (NPE) was disseminated in 1977, which was then being revised in 1981, 1998 and 2004. The NPE stated that the Nigerian languages have a different role to play in the nation’s education which is divided into various levels. It is also mentioned that every child shall learn in the language of the immediate environment in the first three years while English andFrench shall be taught as subjects in school. In addition to that, every child is also required to learn one of the three official indigenous languages(Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba) to promote national unity among all the different ethnic groups in Nigeria. The provision of the NPE in 2004, Section 4, Paragraph 19(e) and (f) is cited below:

The medium of instruction in the primary school shall be the language of the environment for the first three years. During this period, English shall be taught as a subject. from the fourth year, English shall progressively be used as a medium of instruction and the language of immediate environment and French shall be taught as subjects.

Currently, the main issue faced by the Nigerians still exists. The issue is once again raised by Ndimele (2012)stating that Nigeria has never had a “robust and well-articulated language planning framework” as there is “no explicit and comprehensive national language policy.” The only thing that is present in the nation is its language provision of the National Policy on Education (NPE). It is undeniable that NPE reinforces the operation of language in education planning process. However, it does not guarantee or strengthen literacy in the indigenous languages especially the so-called minority languages of Nigeria.

Among all similarities, the most prominent will be the dominance of the Englishlanguage in the Philippines and Nigeria since colonization until present days. As introduced earlier in this paper, the English language is being recognized as one of the official languages in both countries and plays a significant role in both formal and informal context. The dominance of English has reached the extent that the use of English is now more preferable by the people when compared to their own indigenous languages due to its status as well as its function as an international language.

For instance, in the Philippines, the national language is Filipino, which is a Tagalog-based Pilipino enriched with vocabulary from all the Philippine languages and other non-Philippine languages such as Spanish, English, and Arabic. Both Filipino and English are the official languages. However, except for local communication and entertainment-based media on radio and television, the language most widely used in schools and in the print media is still English. In fact, English continues to dominate government and business transactions at the highest levels as well as international communications and education, especially science and mathematics classes, at all levels and all subjects at the university level (Gonzalez,2003). This happens because Filipino is a language yet to be fully developed and is insufficient to fulfill intellectual and business purposes.

Besides that, the Philippines current social problems also contributed to the dominance of English. Due to its rapid population growth rate and slow rate of economic growth, unemployment and underemployment university graduates is a common scene in the Philippines. Hence, when these graduates are unable to find a proper job in their own country, they tend to rely on Overseas Employment to be employed in various fields. Therefore, English competence is emphasized more than Filipino competence at the tertiary level. Throughout the rest of Asia, where many of these workers are employed, Filipino workers can be found in English-speaking domains, thus giving the impression that all Filipinos must be good English speakers. (Jones, 2000).

Similarly, the English language in today’s Nigeria continues to play important roles in the nation as the language of education, media, religion and the language of politics, governance, and law. It is the language of the elites and also the first language for some Nigerians (Ogunmodimu, 2015). Nigeria’s multiplicity of languages is so obvious that languages of people living within a 20 kilometers radius are particularly different and not understandable to one another (Danladi, 2013). The implication of this linguistic situation has been the lack of a common effective means of communication among the groups and this became the basis for resorting to using the English language as a medium of instruction in educational settings, since the choice of any of the three main native languages as a national language may deteriorate to disintegration.

English is used in all and at all levels of official business: in education, in commerce and industry, in the dispensation of justice, in all government departments and parastatals at the state or federal level. Official records are kept in English and official information is given principally in English Government activities are published in the cassette and transmitted in the mass media, the press, radio and television in English. (Dada, 2010).

For instance, many scholars have written on the dominance of English as the official language in Nigeria. According to Oyetade (1992:34), consequent upon our colonial experience under the British, English has become Nigeria’s official and dominant educational language. It is used in its written form as the language of administration from the federal to the local government level. It is the language of commerce and industry, its knowledge, therefore, is an essential prerequisite for effective participation in the day-to-day running of the Nigerian government.

This is further supported by lgboanusi and Peter (2005) stating that in Nigeria, the dominance of English is overwhelming in practically all domains. It is also a language of inter-ethnic communication. Accordingto Odebunmi (2005), English is institutionally the only means open to individuals from different ethnic and linguistic groups for interaction. This shows the dominance of English in the Nigerian setting (Ibrahim et. al., 2016).

Both the Philippines and Nigeria faced a common problem in upholding their indigenous national language because the language themselves are not developed. In the Philippines, due to the lack of financial resources, the national language has not been sufficiently developed as a language of intellectual discourse. Jaine Z. Tarun (2016) also pointed out this issue as his research on Language Planning and the Programs in Filipino of Higher Education Institutions proved that there are very few scholarly materials written in Filipino. Results indicated that English is the language used in published books, scholarly articles, theses, and journals in other disciplines. The findings imply that the problem in the use of Filipino language is not only on the technical discipline but in all subjects in the universities except Filipino courses, where there is an abundance of written and published materials in English but not in Filipino.

In order to develop the language, corpus planning has to be carried out. However, corpus planning is expensive in terms of human and financial resources, the society might not be willing to make it a priority in the face of competing needs and economic imperatives (Gonzalez, 2003).

After the Philippines promulgated Filipino as the national language in the Constitution, some efforts had been done to promote the use of the language. The Vernacular EducationPolicy from 1957 to 1974 and the Bilingual Education Policy were among them. However, both policies did not end up well. The Vernacular Education Policy was not implemented due to the lack of resources for teacher training as well as the production of teaching materials. Likewise, the Bilingual Education Policy in1974 was aborted due to the resignation of the Undersecretary.

On the other hand, in Nigeria, the implementation of National Policy on Education was no plain sailing as well. Despite the fact that through the National Policy on education, it can be said to favor the use of two or more languages in the educational system, implementation of the multilingual provisions has been a serious issue. In an attempt to find out the different factors responsible for the poor implementation of these provisions, scholars have a list of some challenges (Olagbaju, 2014) which include:

  • Multilingual challenge
  • Negative attitudes of students
  • Lack of curriculum materials
  • Ambiguities in the policy
  • Parental factors
  • Teacher quality

The failure in implementation is further proven by Ibrahim, et. al (2016) in his research Language Policy on Education in Nigeria: Challenges of Multilingual Education and Future of English Language. When the Nigerian teachers were asked whether they implement the multilingual provisions of NPE, 77% of the teachers responded that they have not been implementing these provisions at all while91% said that it is not necessary to implement the multilingual provisions of NPE.93% of the teachers stated that they are experiencing a lack of relevant teaching materials, which is a situation similar to what the Philippines are experiencing.

Another issue that arose while implementing the language policy in both countries is the objection received from the people. The Philippines decision-makers and parents have never given the official recognition of their national language. They continue to insist on English on the children at a very young age, even though that hinders the children stability to think critically in the mother tongue or at least in the national language which is structurally similar to the mother tongue. This partially explains the problems of language and quality in Philippine education today(Gonzalez, 2003).

In addition to that Maximo V. Soliven, a respected columnist in the Philippines of the Daily Star was among those who voiced out his objection publicly. This caused an uproar among the people and the Secretary of Education, Culture and sports had to go on national television and face a barrage of questions on the language policy and program of the schools and to allay the fear of people about the ‘internal colonization’ of non-Tagalogs by Tagalogs (Gonzalez, 2003).

A similar case happened in Nigeria. For instance, when a member in the National Assembly urged the House to adopt Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, the three major languages as the country’s languages of education and of government business, preparatory to the emergence of one of them as the national language, the suggestion were greeted with a storm of protests. (Oyetade, 2003). Another incident happened some time ago when it was customary for newscasters on National Television to symbolically greet their viewers “goodnight” in the three major languages at the conclusion of the 9 o’clock news. This was fiercely opposed by speakers of minority languages and the practice was consequently abandoned (Oyetade, 2003).

This ethnic attachment to language is a major reason why the choice of one indigenous language as the official language will forever be a mirage. There is the salient fear of domination of the minority languages by the majority ones. To empower an indigenous language, as the national language is to by extension, empower the ethnicity of that chosen language above others. This will definitely do more harm than good in a system where ethnic tension is visible as manifested in the creation of ethnic militia groups and the politics of federal character. Thus, for practical reasons, English remains the preferred choice given its tribal neutrality; it is capable of unifying the nation’s linguistic diversities. (Ogunmodimu, 2015)

Even though it is evident that in both countries use the English language as their dominant language, a neutral language exists in the nation. This neutral language has no native speakers at first. It consists of a mixture of various languages. In the Philippines, this neutral language refers to Tagalog-based Filipino while in Nigeria, it is the English-based Nigerian Pidgin. In both countries, this neutral language is the most dominantly used throughout the nation regardless of ethnicity (Ogunmodimu, 2015).

In Nigeria, pidgin is not only used in public spaces like the stores, parks, and marketplaces, it has become the means of interethnic communication in informal discourse in offices in linguistically heterogeneous cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt. In recent years, Pidgin has become the language of advertising. It is freely used as the language of media (both print and audio media). A lot of Pentecostal songs are done in Pidgin. Presently, Pidgin is the language of the pervasive-hop culture in Nigeria. Notwithstanding, Pidgin remains stigmatized and unacceptable in official domains. The attitude of the elites to it is quite negative. It is viewed as a corrupt form of language that is associated with the illiterates. Some puritanical linguists concern is that it poses a great threat to the teaching of Standard English in schools. This pejorative attitude to Pidgin has consistently made it be out of place in the nation’s language policy despite its functionality (Ogunmodimu, 2015)

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Bilingual or Multilingual Society in Philippines. (2018, April 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 8, 2022, from
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